What’s in a name? | Inquirer Opinion
High Blood

What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Thus wrote the great English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare.

I was born in the 1950s when parents usually named their newborn after the saint on whose feast day their child came out into this world. It was the time when calendars indicating the saints’ feast days were hung in living rooms, as décor or as necessity.


There was a time when young mothers gave their newborn girls two first names, the first being Maria. It must be too much pressure for the grownup girl to remain chaste if her name was Maria Virginia or Virgin Mary. My mother obviously named me after St. Catherine of Alexandria. Unfortunately, I did not grow up saintly. On the contrary, I’m high-strung, though to be fair, I’m not necessarily a war freak. Assertive and straightforward, yes! Wink.

Young mothers also used to name their newborns after known writers, popular film stars, singers or performers, the pope, beauty queens, celebrities, or as their husband’s junior. Thus, my mother who taught English literature named my big brother after the Italian poet, writer, and philosopher Dante Alighieri. My younger sister was named after the most popular Hollywood icon at the time, Marilyn Monroe.


Naming the newborn after the husband, the grandfather, or the great-grandfather is also common. Hence, there are men who append Junior, the III or the IV after their full name. There are also mothers who name their newborn after themselves, or from a derivative of their first name, or add a second name to distinguish mother from daughter.

Today, there are men or boys named Paul, John Paul, or Francis. You guessed it. They were most probably named after the first pope who visited our country in the early 1970s, or the second pope who visited in 1995, or the present modern and dynamic pope.

It is common in our country to name the newborn from the combination of the first syllable of the parents’ first names, like JoMari from Jose and Maria; or add some letters, like Leo to Leonne or Lianne; or change the last letter of the father’s name from O to A when the baby is a girl. like Feliciano to Feliciana, or the mother’s from A to O when it’s a boy, like Francisca to Francisco, or just delete the last letter, like Miguela to Miguel.

First names are usually used only in schools or in official documents. Family members, close friends, or neighbors have nicknames that either rhyme with the first name or are repeated syllables. I nicknamed my second-born Jaja (“Justice for Aquino, Justice for All”). I have siblings nicknamed Bebe and Gaygay, and a niece nicknamed Bangbang whose hubby is Longlong. My nephew is Rodrod. My former coworker is Mimi, whose siblings are Gigi and Jojo. I have close friends like Didi, Nini, Tata, Renren, and Yeye.

In our hometown, lots of girls and boys are nicknamed Bebe and Boy, Inday and Indoy. To easily identify one from the other, townmates have to attach the name of their mother or father, like Boy Petra, Boy Ingking, Boy Maning, or Boy Talas.

A name often represents the period or the era when one was born. The year 2020 was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wonder what today’s young parents would name their newborns. Would it be Wuhana, Pandemia, or Maskara for the girls? Swabo or Vaxino for the boys? If twins, maybe Quarantino and Quarantina—Tino and Tina for short, right? No kidding! But this is not the time to be too serious. Just stay home as much as possible and stay safe.


Catherine “Kat, Katy” Viacrucis, 69, has been a contributor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer since 2001.

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